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Massive Scouting Report: Toronto FC

A look at Saturday’s Crew opponent.

MLS: Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After a dominating 2-0 victory against D.C. United last week for the first win of the 2023 Major League Soccer season, the Columbus Crew travels north to take on Toronto FC. The Crew’s Canadian rivals enter the March with one point through two matches after a loss to D.C. and a draw away to Atlanta United.

Toronto has a star-studded squad including Italian national team stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi. TFC has had an underwhelming start to 2023 but looks to get the team’s first win of the season in the home opener at BMO Field on Saturday.

Here’s what to expect from Toronto and how the Black & Gold can take leg one of the Trillium Cup.

Toronto FC at a Glance:

Record: 0-1-1 (1 Point)

Leading Scorer: Federico Bernardeschi (2)

Assist Leader: Michael Bradley (1)

Player to Watch: Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi joined Toronto FC last summer from Italian giants Juventus. The 29-year-old Italian has scored 10 goals and recorded two assists in just 16 appearances for the club in first year. Bernardeschi is a left-footed player who usually operates on the right wing or in central midfield, which allows him the ability to cut inside and attack centrally.

The Italian excels at receiving the ball in between the midfield and defensive lines and attacking quickly. Bernardeschi’s shooting ability also opens up room for his teammates to attack in behind their opponents.

If Columbus going to win on Saturday, it will be up to the backline and midfielders to do a good job of containing Bernardeschi.

How Toronto plays:

Head coach Bob Bradley has entered his second year at the helm in Toronto after a disappointing first campaign that saw the Reds miss the MLS Cup playoffs for the second straight campaign. Despite this, TFC had a successful offseason in adding numerous key free agents to the roster in order to supplement their squad to help with Bradley’s tactics.

Typically lining up in a 4-3-3 formation, Bradley’s MLS teams have always been adept at keeping possession of the ball. In fact, Toronto was one of the best possession teams in the league in 2022. Because of this possession, Toronto can often control the tempo of the game and suit it to the team’s favor. Toronto often scores through crossing plays, which is an area the Black & Gold have struggled in for the past few campaigns.

Defensively, Bradley’s sides typically defend in a mid to low block, keeping a 4-3-3 shape. The Reds’ central midfielders will look to match up with their counterparts, which allows their wingers to press their opponents' outside backs. Despite their organization, Toronto’s downfall for the past several years has been a leaky defense. Despite signing goalkeeper Sean Johnson this offseason, that trend has so far continued with TFC giving up four goals in only two matches. Toronto will look to be much more solid defensively from here out in 2023.

How the Crew can win:

Columbus will look for back-to-back wins for the first time in 2023 when facing Toronto on Saturday night. While it will be a difficult task, there are a few areas of importance for the Crew to take all three points for the second straight week.

First and foremost, the Black & Gold need to work really hard to keep possession at a decent rate at BMO Field. As mentioned, TFC places a huge emphasis on keeping the ball and controlling the tempo. If Columbus is able to challenge the home side by retaining the ball, that will force Toronto to defend for long periods of time, which the Reds don’t typically want to do, although they did a good job of it last week against Atlanta. Additionally, this allows the Crew to control the tempo of the game and manipulate the TFC defense, which aligns with Nancy’s game model.

In addition to keeping the ball, Columbus will want to try and exploit TFC in attacking transition. For years, Toronto and Bob Bradley’s teams have been susceptible to quick counter attacks upon losing the ball. Columbus can gain the upper hand if the team is able to threaten on the counter early and often in this match.

Lastly, the Crew will need to defend Toronto’s crosses really well. The Reds will send in plenty of crosses in this match. In years past, this has been a real weakness for the Black & Goold and goalkeeper Eloy Room. If the Crew is able to effectively deal with these crosses, or limit their frequency, that will eliminate a large portion of the TFC attack.